At the start of 2020 many decision makers in transport forecasted what was in store for changes to the way we move. Now that we’ve passed the halfway mark for the year, says Peter O’Driscoll, managing director of RingGo, it can certainly be said that things have not gone as anticipated and, as a result, some predictions have taken a far different course of action in comparison to what was initially expected.
Priorities have changed. Working from home to push business continuity has become the new normal. Some companies have had to overhaul team structures for cashflow purposes given the frequent impacts on demand for business. However, despite how tough it has been, not all hope is lost; a number of lesson have been learnt and continue to be learned with the aim of transforming industries for the better.
So, with the gift of hindsight, we take a look at some of the predictions that may have changed since the beginning of the year and what can be expected for the rest of the year.
Digitalisation is kicked into fifth gear
The year began with many predictions around smart car technology, in-car payments and voice activation. But with mobility and transport across the world coming to a halt many of those predictions did not fully materialise.
However, not all technology solutions were shelved and as it turns out, ‘TouchFree’ parking – through phones and apps – is actually a key component in helping to get the country safely moving again.
Initially, local authorities and parking operators had adopted cashless payments as an option to become more inclusive. But based on current guidance from the government and the World Health Organisation to minimise contact surfaces and deal less with cash, this type of payment is a way to reopen outdoor spaces and city centres – and the car parks that provide access to them – without putting the public or employees at additional risk.
Reduced pricing and reinforced safety messaging have been put in place to promote cashless payments in the aftermath of the pandemic, but as adoption rises, so will the popularity. Over the course of the next few months, many will see the benefits of using a parking app that not only allows them to pay in a simple way, but helps to locate availability, provide directions, and enable you to extend your parking session from anywhere if you fancy a little extra time.
The green revolution in transport
The beginning of lockdown saw more and more people taking more of an interest in spending time outside, either in their gardens or venturing out on exploratory walks. The compulsory long daily commute transformed into a saunter around the block. As citizens we have paid more attention to our environments and nature than ever before. So, what kind of impact has this really had on the environment?
Back in March, we were already seeing significant impact of the lockdown on the environment as car registrations fell -44.4% and motorway traffic dropped by a staggering 83%. It was first spotted from space, as images started to show a drastic reduction in pollution. Animals have followed suit, taking over areas once occupied by humans and enjoying the peace and quiet. As the country begins to open back up, the question has to be, so what now?
At the beginning of 2020 we were already seeing a drive towards more environmentally friendly mobility, while lockdown took us almost to carbon neutral, it isn’t a feasible way to maintain the environment. However, with the pre-Covid-19 rise in ‘environmentally aware’ purchasing, seeing the impact first-hand could truly help with adoption of cleaner driving habits.
At the same time, as people start travelling again, they will be less keen to jump back on a train or bus than before, meaning that many will be looking to their cars more. In turn putting more on the road and possibly impacting pollution levels rapidly. However, not all hope is lost for the environment, more cars may be on the roads, but many of them are cleaner – hybrid or electric – vehicles. As an additional bonus, it was announced in April that company car drivers and fleet operators choosing an electric vehicle will incur zero tax on Benefit-In-Kind (BIK).
The adoption of cleaner vehicles is also being encouraged by policies – such as emissions-based parking (EBP) – that more authorities and parking operators are putting in place. EBP, for example, charges higher polluting vehicles more to park than hybrid or electric vehicles, ultimately making it more environmentally friendly – and financially sensible – to own a cleaner car.
Unlike the early 2020 trend of the rise of the ride hailing, many now find themselves having to adjust to in car screens and compulsory mask policies in order to abide to social distancing regulations. The lockdown has also encouraged people to begin opting to take a long walk and even choose to jump on a bike to get from A to B. Many cities will look to capitalise on this trend post-lockdown to pedestrianise more city centres and there is a likelihood that policy on electric scooters could receive more support as a way to provide alternative, cleaner transportation options.
In spite of current unfavourable public opinion towards public transport, changes to the way we commute are likely to transform rapidly as the government fast tracks the development of e-scooter and cycle schemes to ease the pressure on our transport links. But public transport isn’t down for the count. Providers like TfL should use this to start thinking about their price points, rethink their business model and understand the areas in which the business can continue to grow versus the areas where the focus will need to shift.
The environment has benefitted from the stay at home orders and despite an initial spike in car usage, this could be the jump start that we need to look for alternative modes of transport that support cleaner, healthier cities.
Starting to restructure relationships with local authorities where data is king
Planning for the future is a top priority for local authorities across the country, but the past few months caused many plans to be scrapped. The push for EV infrastructure may have been a key goal, but with the complete standstill of many sources of income for local authorities, many projects like this have been put on hold. New sources of revenue have had to take priority and, unfortunately, many are just struggling to provide basic services.
However, as lockdown restrictions ease, local authorities need to be both considerate of safety and well-being, while still getting people back into town centres and opening attractions. Data can play a bit role in making this happen in smart, efficient ways.
At the beginning of the year we talked about learning from consumer data, but those patterns have all but gone out the window. So, we need to establish new baselines, current consumer behaviour – who is coming in and out of cities, the types of cars being used, how this is impacting wellbeing and the environment, etc.
Planning will also be driven by government announcement and changes to lockdown orders, so agility is key. Now is the time to turn to data driven integrated services to understand patterns, make plans and ultimately breath life back into the once bustling streets.
This trend towards data will enable providers within the industry to ensure that solutions are being developed to meet new, evolving consumer and societal needs, as well as cater to local authorities that need digital solutions rather than simple transactional tools to get them back up and running.
The bottom line is that nobody could have predicted what 2020 had in store for us. It is likely its surprises have not all yet been revealed, but what we do know is that it has put systems and schemes under pressure and scrutiny to levels previously unimagined. But out of pressure comes change – we can use these troubled times to adapt, learn and improve the infrastructure we have. The impacts of COVID-19 will tail into the rest of year and beyond so we are likely to see it shaping transport and mobility for a very long time.
The author is Peter O’Driscoll, managing director of RingGo.